BEIJING — China warned Friday that it would take “firm countermeasures” if the United States proceeded with its longstanding attempt to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics over human rights issues, raising pressure ahead of the Group of 20 summit next week.
But officials in Washington said they were not hearing any signals of a top-level Chinese reaction to the boycott, which has become a symbol of the frosty U.S.-China relationship.
The timing and content of Chinese statements have not yielded strong clues to China’s intentions. Beijing traditionally does not take positions on foreign policy issues during the G-20 summit and few expect any change in its firm reaction to the boycott.
China has “repeatedly declared its rejection of the boycott,” the official Xinhua news agency reported Friday, noting, “The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to the boycott of the Olympics by the U.S. The Chinese government is opposed to the United States arbitrarily accusing China of human rights violations.”
The dispute centers on a call in 2001 by then President George W. Bush to keep China’s Olympics out of light of rights abuses. That was widely considered an embarrassing rebuke to China, one that was condemned by human rights groups and used as propaganda by the Chinese government. But President Obama has indicated the boycott would not be implemented, meaning the issue might be left to rest.
China’s warning Friday comes amid increasing signs of worsening relations. The U.S. is resuming diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and China could also choose to downgrade its participation in the annual G-20 meeting of the world’s biggest economies, which it has attended for almost every one of its 18 editions.
While some officials said China appeared to be dialing back its rhetoric, analysts said the dispute could still flare up in places like climate change, financial markets and trade, further undermining ties.
“China’s response indicates that it remains unperturbed by the opposition of the United States,” said Bradley J. McMillian, a professor of Chinese studies at Drew University, in Madison, N.J. “But China wants to say it supports sports, and that it disagrees with the United States on the matter, but that it wouldn’t ban the United States from the Olympics.”
A new round of tensions over U.S. policy toward Tibet is already emerging.
After the Dalai Lama met with President Obama in Washington last week, China canceled high-level talks on cultural and religious issues that were to have been held later this month. At the meeting, the Dalai Lama denounced human rights abuses in China.
On Friday, a Chinese vice minister of Foreign Affairs did not mention human rights when he promised the U.S. group China Relations Council, “China will adhere to political stability and reform at home, which is conducive to China’s economic growth.”
The G-20 is divided between an emerging and a developed nation. China is a developing nation and therefore largely shares the views of emerging nations on globalization, but it remains to be seen whether it would ultimately view the G-20 as an instrument of force for change.
While China did not face a formal boycott in past decades, its dealings with the G-20 were not without incident. In 1993, for example, the China and India signed the “Golden Rice” protocol, which stipulated India would not label Chinese subsidized rice genetically altered to include genes from the rice plant of the country’s neighbor. When this agreement expired the next year, the relationship was never close again.